As predicted, Australia came out fighting on Saturday, determined not to let the series be over before the final game came about. They left it late, though, Adam Ashley-Cooper’s try three minutes from time, coupled with Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty miss after time expired, was enough for them to scrape victory.
The entire series therefore hinges on the game this weekend in Sydney, for which both sides could be without their captains. On the Lions’ side, this is a definite, as Sam Warburton has already been ruled out with a hamstring tear. That is a big blow, as he was their best player on Saturday by a long way, but one softened by the fact that the back row is their one area of real strength and either Sean O’Brien or Justin Tipuric will be a more than able deputy.
Australia’s problem is a more contentious one. Captain James Horwill faces a second disciplinary hearing over his alleged stamp on Alun-Wyn Jones in the opening game. He was initially cleared of the charge, but the International Rugby Board and not -it should be stressed- the Lions have appealed that decision and their appeal is to be heard this week.
Losing Horwill will be a big blow for Australia, but the sense of injustice will be enormous and for a side already seeking a comeback win that could be crucial. For the Lions, centre Brian O’Driscoll will take over as captain, handing him something of a reprieve after two very average games so far. With Jamie Roberts almost certain to be fit to return at inside centre, O’Driscoll’s place could’ve been under pressure from Jonathan Davies, who had two decent games out of position in Roberts’ role. Whilst suggesting that O’Driscoll could be dropped is tantamount to lese-majesty in some quarters, Lions coach Warren Gatland has never shied away from such things and in the two matches to date, O’Driscoll has been repeatedly penalised at the breakdown and was a clear target for the big Australian backs on Saturday, with Ashley-Cooper’s score coming directly down O’Driscoll’s channel.
One effect of the Australian win on Saturday has been to absolutely flatline the betting odds markets. Stan James have both sides trading at evens to win on Saturday and you will struggle to find a better price on either of them. That, of course, means that the series winner market has done the same thing.
That means you need to look elsewhere to make some real money with your sports picks. The half time/full time market is always a good place to start here. SkyBet will give you an astonishing 7/1 on either side coming from behind at half time to win. Given that this is exactly what Australia did at the weekend, those are odds not to be ignored.
Another good place to look is the winning margin market. Again, there are some surprising prices on offer. Given that both games have been decided by fewer than three points, Paddy Power’s 1-5 point margin either way looks good, especially at the quoted 9/2.
Finally, for those of you who like something a bit more esoteric, Ladbrokes are offering a bet on the number of yellow cards issued in the game. We haven’t had one yet in the 160 minutes that have been played, which is rare for international rugby nowadays. With so much at stake in this game, it would not be at all surprising if there were to be more than one, which is currently priced at 11/5.